Little to Show for Ten Years
Looking back at the stories we covered in our March/April 1996 issue (), we were disappointed by the slow progress, and even backsliding, in the intervening decade. Here’s where four of those stories stand today. We’ll hope for a happier update in our next Then & Now column.
Windows—Ten years ago this month,
EBN’s feature article examined windows—outlining the best available technologies for improved energy performance. The only surprise ten years later is how little has changed. New versions of spectrally selective, low-emissivity coatings are somewhat better at transmitting visible light while rejecting heat, and a few high-tech products, such as the electronically tintable glazings from Sage Electrochromics, Inc., offer energy-saving benefits. But, overall, energy performance seems to have plateaued if not actually decreased—the R-5 windows that were available in 1996 are, if anything, harder to get today, at least in the U.S. Hurd Millwork Company, for example, once a leader in high-performance windows, no longer offers any windows that meet the
GreenSpec® Directory standard for energy performance; gone are all of its suspended-film glazings.
The Natural Step—We also reported on the introduction of The Natural Step to the U.S. That compelling philosophy, with its mantra of four inviolable “system conditions” gained fairly wide recognition in environmental circles, but its influence appears to have waned with little overall impact on government policy or business strategy.
Autoclaved aerated concrete—1996 seemed to be the beginning of something big with major investments in U.S.-based manufacturing by two European producers of autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC): Hebel Group and Ytong, Inc.
EBN was cautiously optimistic about this material, while warning that the foamed-cement blocks did not have high enough R-values to meet insulation needs in cold climates in North America. In the intervening decade, both operations have suffered major setbacks and changed hands repeatedly.
GreenSpec currently lists three U.S.-based producers of AAC and one distributor of a product from Mexico, but these companies probably do not have the reach or capital of those European conglomerates.
LCA information—EBN’s review of The American Institute of Architects (AIA)
Environmental Resource Guide (ERG) celebrated the arrival of comprehensive life-cycle information on selected building materials. The ERG expanded for several years before stagnating for lack of funding. In the ensuing ten years, nobody has published building-material life-cycle analyses that are as comprehensive or user-friendly. The visionary leadership from AIA on environmental issues that produced the ERG and other initiatives also went into hibernation, but it may now be reawakening with new initiatives on energy efficiency and building ratings (see
Published March 1, 2006